President Donald Trump on Thursday signed an executive order aimed at protecting politically active churches from losing their tax-free status. Churches and other tax-exempt organizations are restricted from endorsing or explicitly opposing political candidates under the 1954 Johnson Amendment, but the executive order Trump signed Thursday makes clear that those activities would still not be permitted.
The president marked the occasion by making good on a campaign promise, signing an executive order created to promote and protect religious liberty. Other religious conservatives have praised the order as a key step in reworking layers of regulations they see as unfair.
"We will not allow people of faith to be targeted, bullied or silenced anymore", Trump said.
For years, the HHS mandate has been the subject of heated legal debates.
The President also ordered the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Labor, and the Secretary of Health and Human Services to "consider issuing amended regulations, consistent with applicable law, to address conscience-based objections to the preventive-care mandate promulgated under section 300gg-13 (a)(4) of title 42, United States Code". And Baylor called the promised "regulatory relief" from the birth control coverage requirement "disappointingly vague". EWTN is among the organizations that have filed lawsuits. The federal government, he said, will never ever penalize someone for their religious beliefs. But Christian groups have complained most vociferously about its use. He directed the attorney general to "as appropriate, issue guidance interpreting religious liberty protections in Federal law".
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democrat from IL, said the repeal of the Johnson amendment will allow more dark money to enter politics. Faith based adoption agencies will remain closed because they believe a child deserves a mother and a father.
In the meantime, here's a look at what Trump's executive order does - and doesn't - do.
It is narrower than the previous draft of a religious freedom executive order that had earlier been leaked to The Nation, but was ultimately scrapped in February.
This annual event of more than 500 people draws some of the "who's who" in religious freedom advocacy, especially Catholics and evangelicals but also some Muslims, Sikhs, Mormons and Jews.
America is a deeply religious country because religious freedom and tolerance of divergent religious views thrive.
"We should not be muzzled for speaking out on political issues just because we're people of faith", he said.
The order, said the ADL in a statement, "will foster inappropriate religious entanglement with politics, campaign donations and special interests", and "likely encourage divisive manipulation of religious organizations by campaign donors who are not subject to customary campaign finance laws".
That includes employers like the Little Sisters of the Poor who sued the Obama administration. "We didn't get into this mess in one fell swoop, and we're not going to get out of it in one clean solution".
Anderson says the ball is now in Congress' court to take legislative action on these issues.
Pastor Robert Jeffress went even further and said the order "marks the beginning of the end of government's 60-year-old war against religious liberty". "No one should be censoring sermons or targeting pastors", Trump said.
On Thursday, several Jewish groups and leaders came out against the executive order, saying the amendment was a bulwark that prevents the mixing of prayer and politics.
"The actions taken today are a broadside to our country's long-standing commitment to the separation of church and state", the organization said. It would also allow religious organizations lobbying for the right to discriminate a different set of rules that favor them. "So it was a very good meeting".